[env-trinity] Siskiyou Daily News- Looking for rain

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Oct 17 08:25:20 PDT 2012


By John Bowman

October 16. 2012 10:02AM

Looking for rain

As near record numbers of Chinook salmon continue to flood into the Klamath River and its tributaries, the heightened focus on this year's run has produced some controversy.

Several hundred Chinook salmon have been schooling in a pool at the mouth of the Scott River. The Karuk and Yurok tribes say the US Forest Service should be doing more to acquire more water. But the Forest Service says that can't be done.

As near record numbers of Chinook salmon continue to flood into the Klamath River and its tributaries, the heightened focus on this year's run has produced some controversy. On Oct. 10, the Karuk and Yurok tribes issued a joint press release accusing the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) of ignoring their "responsibility to protect endangered salmon."

The charge is based on the fact that the USFS has an adjudicated water right on the Scott River that has not been met at times during the late summer and early fall months when Chinook salmon return to the river to spawn. The tribes say the issue is especially pressing because several hundred Chinook are currently holding in a pool at the mouth of the Scott River "waiting for enough water to migrate up into the valley and spawn."

According to Yurok Fisheries Program Manager Dave Hillemeier, "these kinds of conditions can lead to disease outbreaks and fish kills."

The Daily News visited the Scott River on Thursday and confirmed that several hundred salmon are indeed holding at the mouth of the river. However, salmon were also observed in groups of five to 40 fish throughout the canyon reaches of the river on the same day. As of Oct. 13 the California Department of Fish and Game's (CDFG) Scott River salmon counting weir at river mile 18 had recorded at least 356 Chinook passing through the weir. CDFG employees are continuing to review videos and release periodic updates of fish numbers.

The Forest Service's adjudicated water right for the month of October is 40 cubic feet per second (c.f.s.) as measured at the USGS flow gage just downstream of the transition from valley to canyon topography. As of 10:30 a.m yesterday, the gage shows the surface flow at 22 c.f.s. According to the graph, flows at that location have been slowly but continuously increasing over the past week.

Karuk Tribal Chairman Buster Attebery said, "During meetings between the USFS and the Karuk Tribe, the tribe has asked that attention be brought to the failure of meeting water needs. The Klamath National Forest has yet to take any action regarding the reported shortage in water and the obvious failure to protect the fishery."

But Patty Grantham, Klamath National Forest supervisor said there is no other water available to meet the adjudication.

"I understand the concerns with low flows in the Scott River," Grantham said on Thursday. "I am concerned also. I feel the best approach to addressing this complex issue is for interested parties to work together toward a solution. That's how lasting solutions are built." She says the USFS has been actively working with stakeholder groups interested in the Scott River.

"We've also been in contact with local elected government and tribal officials and other local, state and federal agencies to discuss the situation and look for opportunities to improve flows," she added.
But the tribes are pushing for a different approach. In their press release, they urge the USFS to formally notify the California Water Board of the situation and make a call on any junior water rights holders to release more water.

But according to Grantham, "From a water rights perspective, based on agency research, there are no junior water rights holders diverting that could be called upon to furnish water to fulfill the right held by the Forest Service."

According to Scott River Watermaster John Clement, the USFS adjudication is in schedule D4 of the 1980 Scott River Decree. Clement says rights from on schedule cannot be commandeered to satisfy an adjudication on a different schedule.

Scott River Water Trust Executive Director Sari Sommarstrom says there are currently no active junior diversions in the D4 schedule that could be taken. She said because of the excessively dry water year, only the highest priority adjudications received their full allotment, leaving many junior adjudications short of their allotted quantity. She said it's important to remember that this situation is occurring in the context of a drought year, a circumstance which she says has become more and more common since the 1980 decree was established.

Preston Harris, a Scott Valley rancher and member of the Scott Valley Irrigation District board of directors said of the tribes' press release, "Insisting that people or agencies make demands is not the correct approach when dealing with Scott Valley water issues. To do so only causes the resources to suffer and moves us further away from a positive end result. It's more important to work towards a solution instead of creating division and starting new conflicts."

CDFG Senior Environmental Scientist for the Klamath/Trinity Program, Wade Sinnen said "The CDFG does have concern over fish health and is monitoring the situation. However, current environmental temperature parameters indicate water temps at 50 degrees fahrenheit, which are highly suitable for salmonid survival and less suitable for many pathogens and their life cycle completion time scales."

"Although flows are low and many fish are 'staging' in the lower river," Sinnen added, "migration is occurring and fish are spread out through the lower half of the system and we have observed (counted on video) fish moving through the Scott River weir at river mile 18."

He did note that if sections of the river are inaccessible to spawners, available habitat and distribution of spawners will be negatively affected.

Sinnen noted that this has been an especially dry year in the region and said CDFG anticipates that fish will quickly migrate upstream after the first significant rain storm of the season. 

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